Uber Says It's Better at Math than MIT

By: Bridget Clerkin March 9, 2018
A recent MIT report found Uber's drivers earned less than $4 an hour. Uber questioned the august institution's math—and the rideshare firm might be right.

Uber, the company famous for flubbing its own employee payment calculationsmore than once—is claiming that the premier university in the world for mathematics has got its numbers all wrong.

And, as it turns out, they may be right.

The rideshare company raised some serious red flags earlier this week after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released an alarming report alleging Uber drivers net less than $4 an hour for their work—and now the prestigious educational institution is walking back that unflattering claim.

The study’s lead author, Stephen Zoepf, issued an official mea culpa on Twitter just hours after Uber publicly brought the report’s fact-gathering process into question, acknowledging that the company’s concerns were valid and thanking Uber for its thoughtful and thorough response.

One of the first analyses of its kind, the findings were tabulated using a survey of more than 1,100 Uber drivers, which asked about their daily routes—and their numerous daily expenses.

The raw data reported by Zoepf and his team found a net average salary of $15 per hour for the drivers, but determined Uber pilots wound up with an average hourly wage of $3.37—or just about 29 cents per mile—once costs like gas and maintenance were accounted for. The numbers went on to show 30% of Uber drivers actually lost money after the deductions were factored in, with the study claiming 74% of those surveyed earned less than the minimum wage in their state.

Uber quickly responded to the ugly economic picture, saying the survey used tricky language that led the MIT researchers to conflate two different calculations for determining the drivers’ monthly income. And CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took to Twitter himself to suggest a new name for the vaunted university: “Mathematically Incompetent Theories.”

Still, his repudiation was no match for the widespread proliferation of the buggy survey, which quickly made headlines across the Internet.

But with Zoepf promising to re-run the numbers this weekend, it remains to be seen how much the story will change.

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